From the Director…
The Oral History Center Top 10 of 2019
With Thanksgiving falling late on the calendar this year, all of the sudden things are feeling very rushed in the lead up to 2020. Despite that feeling, your friends here at the Oral History Center set aside a few moments to reflect on some of the more memorable episodes of 2019. This year we again conducted about 500 hours of interviews and did a whole lot more too, such as produced two seasons of our podcast series, The Berkeley Remix, taught scores of eager students about oral history, and traveled the nation to record our interviews. The countdown that follows, then, is just a snapshot of those times that made us laugh, let us weep, and forced us to sit back in awe of the impactful research we do and the wonderful stories we are honored to record.
- OHC historian Shanna Farrell started an oral history book club. Her first selection was Patrick Radden Keefe’s remarkable new book, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (if you want to know more, check out the not-so-oral history transcript of our conversation).
- The work of the Center was featured wide and far through a variety of media, providing an ever-larger opportunity for folks to engage with the work that we do. OHC oral histories were featured on podcasts such as East Bay Yesterday, California Report Magazine, and The Dropout (about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes); and news of our work was featured in California Magazine and regularly on Berkeley News and even a few times on the homepage of the Berkeley website, thanks to the efforts of our newest employee, Communications Manager Jill Schlessinger.
- A 2019 highlight for OHC historian Roger Eardley-Pryor was his interview with H. Anthony “Tony” Ruckel, former President of the Sierra Club. Ruckel helped pioneer the then-nascent field of environmental law. Roger recalled, “During his interview, Tony explained how, in 1969, as a ‘green’ 29-year-old lawyer, he brought the precedent-setting Parker v. United States case under the Wilderness Act of 1964 to protect land near Vail, Colorado that eventually became Eagle’s Nest Wilderness. To prepare for his interview, I read Tony’s book on environmental law, Voices for the Earth (2014), while backpacking through the Emigrant Wilderness in the high Sierra Nevada, just north of Yosemite National Park. What better place to read about Tony’s efforts to preserve wilderness than a designated wilderness area!”
- On occasion, we have the opportunity to host a special event celebrating the completion of an oral history. In August, we fệted Anne Halsted, the community advocate who has spent tireless decades serving many nonprofit organizations and government agencies striving to improve communities in the Bay Area. After the formal presentation, those attending were treated to spontaneous memories and tributes; perhaps the one that got the most applause was when someone proclaimed that Halsted should have been our first female President! This event also marked the official kick-off of our new oral history project on Women in Politics — check back in 2020 for more news on this.
- East Bay Yesterday host Liam O’Donoghue was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Summer Institute and provided the group assembled with a complex view into the history of our region that clearly demonstrated the power of oral history to bring the past alive.
- Shanna Farrell reflected on 2019 and concluded a highlight for her was traveling to New York to interview the celebrated abstract sculptor Mel Edwards. Farrell wrote, “His work is so powerful and he’s so intelligent that meeting him in person was a really gratifying experience. Participating in the Getty Trust oral history project, even in a small way, has been one of the best oral history projects on which I’ve worked.”
- HBO released to wide-acclaim its popular miniseries Chernobyl, based on the collection of oral histories Voices of Chernobyl. The author of this book, Svetlana Alexievich, won 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature in part for this work. (This book will be the first OHC book club selection of 2020 — why not read along with us?)
- When asked about 2019, OHC historian Paul Burnett was momentarily stumped, but then replied, “In an annual roundup, it’s a bit unusual to write about something that began in the fall of 2017, but my work with UC Berkeley engineering scientist George Leitmann qualifies. At twenty-three hours, his oral history is a very deep dive into one person’s life story. More than that, George and I spent many hours poring over photo albums, looking at artifacts, and planning the final look of the interview volume. His oral history is extraordinary, not only because it showcases an extraordinary person, which he is; but also because of the extraordinary history he witnessed.”
- Producing our own podcasts were definitely a highlight. We released two seasons this year — 6 full-length episodes! The first was called Let There Be Light: 150 Years of UC Berkeley. This featured three episodes edited and narrated by three OHC historians (Paul Burnett, Amanda Tewes, and Shanna Farrell); the podcasts provided three snapshots of Cal’s history at 150 years. The second season was Hidden Heroes, which drew upon the interviews of the East Bay Regional Park District Oral History Project. Produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi, these three episodes built upon the stories told in the interviews, illustrating, we think, the transformative power of oral history and the important role of parklands in our lives.
- And, drumroll, the Number One on this list comes from yours truly. We’ve made no secret of the fact that in 2019 we partnered with local public radio station KQED and the California State Archives to conduct Governor Jerry Brown’s oral history. The interview is done and we’re currently editing the transcript for release in January (finger’s crossed!). I joined KQED’s Scott Shafer and our own OHC historian Todd Holmes in asking the questions, and, as you’ll see when it is released, there were highlight points-a-many in the result exchanges. But one special moment I’ll recall for a good long time was when the dialog changed from historian-and-governor to gardener-and-gardener. During one lunch break in the blazing heat of summer at the governor’s ranch, Brown admitted to me that he was concerned about the progress of his tomatoes: were those blotches a disease? Why was there no fruit yet? I was happy to provide a quick consultation and when I returned a few weeks later, I was relieved to see a healthy bush ripe with cherry tomatoes!
I hope that everyone in the reach of this newsletter had the good fortune of experiencing their own top 10 moments of 2019 and wish more such positive memories and proud accomplishments for 2020. It is imperative that I recognize the OHC Top 10 could not have happened without the support of so many people: the OHC staff is second-to-none and are a pleasure to work with; our student employees continue working quietly but so professionally and productively behind the scenes; and, without question, our narrators’ gift of their time and their memories is the beating heart of our work, and always will be. Our generous partners and individual sponsors make this work possible, and we are deeply grateful for the support that they provide. We hope that you, too, will remember the Oral History Center as you make your year-end gifts — and we make it easy for you to do so here. We’ve got some great things planned for 2020, so please continue on this journey will us in the months and years to come.
Charles B. Faulhaber Director
Oral History Center
In 1988, the World Health Organization established World AIDS Day, one of eight major global health campaigns begun by the United Nations. It stands today as a reminder that, after forty years, tens of millions of people have died of HIV/AIDS, and approximately 37 million are currently living with the disease. It also should remind us of how terrifying this disease is, how it hurts those the most who have the fewest resources with which to defend themselves, and how we are nowhere near an end to the spread of HIV and the suffering it causes.
Last year, the Oral History Center released a 7-episode podcast about the first efforts to understand, track, and treat a mysterious new illness that was killing gay men in San Francisco. Based on the three dozen interviews conducted by Center historian Sally Smith Hughes, First Response: AIDS and Community in San Francisco highlights both the larger context of the arrival of the epidemic and the on-the-ground drama of the physicians, nurses, epidemiologists, and laboratory researchers who were fighting for scarce resources while also fighting the disease.
For decades now, HIV/AIDS has been evolving into different disease, as it spread around the world into new social, economic, technological, and cultural contexts. By 2010, new infections in the United States were three times as likely to be among African American and Latino populations as among white men, for example.
There is therefore a lot of work for us to do at the Oral History Center to map the past thirty years of the epidemic. Sadly, however, many of the themes of First Response are still relevant today: the stigmatization of the disease, a reluctance to pay for the public-health and primary-care interventions necessary to check the spread of HIV, and our general struggle to address the larger context in which survivors of HIV find themselves. For now, we will be working with partners to develop curriculum content for Grade 11 classrooms across the country around the First Response podcast and our collection of interviews. If you would like to help with this work developing assignments and content for educators, please contact Paul Burnett at email@example.com.
As oral historians, we’ve heard a lot about the Belfast Project, which collected interviews with people who were on both sides of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the implications that it had for ethics, transparency, and best practices for our work. Interviews were recorded, confessions to crimes were made, and the transcripts were archived at Boston College. And then they were subpoenaed, spurring endless questions and conversations about what we can and can’t promise to our narrators. (For more details, this paper outlines the history of The Troubles and the case in detail.)
But, in the summer of 2019, Patrick Radden Keefe published Say Nothing, a book outlining the case and the use of oral history, challenging what many of us thought we knew. Here’s the description from his publisher, Penguin Random House:
“In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville’s children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress–with so many kids, she had always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.
The Not-So-Transcript of the Not-So-Oral History of Our Conversation About Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
Shanna Farrell: Let’s start with your favorite parts of the book.
Amanda Tewes: For me, it’s always really fascinating to hear about history from a memory perspective. This book reminded me of an extension of Portelli’s The Death of Luigi Trastulli and the idea that there are all these events but everybody disagrees on what happened. They remember it differently, but he’s bringing together a story based on not only the history, but also the memory, and how that clouds perception even today.
Martin Meeker: Admittedly, I listened to it and didn’t read it. That’s actually one of my favorite parts—listening to it—because the gentleman who read it has this amazing Irish accent. It’s quite enjoyable.
Roger Eardley-Pryor: It’s so good. His accent is beautiful. It put another layer of enjoyment on it.
Meeker: But, what I really liked was that this is a story that I think a lot of oral historians think they know something about. It became clear pretty early on that it’s not only the story the oral history project, but one that really needs to be put in the context of the larger Troubles in Northern Ireland. Even though they move the project to the United States, they couldn’t they couldn’t move The Troubles out of it.
Eardley-Pryor: One of the things that I really loved about the book was the memories that it inspired in me. I studied and lived in Ireland in 1999. It was a year after The Good Friday Agreement was signed and Gerry Adams was on TV a lot representing Sinn Fein and forming this Peace Coalition. I remember walking through Belfast and one street had tri-colored Irish Flags painted on the curbs and flags that run between buildings, so you’re clearly in a Catholic space. And then you’d turn the corner and the roads are all painted red white and blue with the Union Jack with British flags flying between the houses. And, what I also loved about this book is how you follow individual characters through their own journey with The Troubles. That was just so Illuminating.
Meeker: Shanna, did you have a favorite part of it?
Farrell: My favorite thing about this book was the pacing of it. I really liked how he doled out the stories, which is something that I like in fiction a lot. One chapter tells one story and then you pause and go to another character.
Meeker: I noticed how it unfolded, too, which worked really well for a nonfiction book. The historical actors are not usually characters, right? They’ll appear, they’ll make their contribution to history, and then they’ll disappear. But the people in this book get woven back into the story. You’re introduced to Dolours Price and Ed Moloney and Brendan Hughes early on and then they’ll come back in. You really get us a sense of their role in this long, unfolding history that covers decades. It’s really artfully done.
Farrell: It really engaged me. It was definitely a page turner.
Meeker: It would be interesting to talk to the author, Patrick Radden Keefe, to figure out how he came up with the process of integrating the story of the tapes into the book. Did he decide beforehand that they would be a pivotal part of the story? You rarely get a nonfiction writer to spend that much time talking about the research methodology. But as it turns out, the research is a big part of the story.
Farrell: Yeah, and super dramatic. I think that’s why it’s part of the story. That was actually one of my questions. Could this have been a book without oral history and the existence of the Belfast Project?
Tewes: With this particular book, no, because he does seem really taken with the idea of memory and the differing accounts of who said what when. The same person could have several different accounts. It seems to have been an important part of the book. So oral history, I think, made it that much richer. I’d like to know like how he decided to use oral history and at what point he decided to drive the narrative by adding dialogue to these characters, which he’s really taking it out of previous conversations and oral history.
Meeker: That’s really fascinating to me.
Eardley-Pryor: I was surprised at the end where they describe the sources. I thought he only had access to Brendan Hughes’ and one other person’s actual transcripts, right?
Farrell: That one of my big questions. I wasn’t sure whose oral histories he had access to. That brings me to my next question: what did you know about this case or project before the book, and how did this challenge what you thought you knew?
Tewes: As Martin said, I think this is something a lot of oral historians think they know. I remember when the case happened in 2013. I had taken my IRB test in 2015 and it was already part of the curriculum about why this was a problematic approach to doing oral history. So, I’d read a few articles and thought I understood what was going on. But, clearly there was a lot more happening behind the scenes and the politics in Ireland were just as important as what I was reading about in Boston College’s approach to the project. I feel like the way oral historians had discussed this was really divorced from the larger context.
Meeker: Yeah, I’d agree with that. I think that my perspective around the mainstream oral history discourse about this seemed to be: “How dare they try to take these sacrosanct interviews that are under seal? We need to marshal our resources and fight.” Oral historians tended to link it to academic freedom, which I always thought to be a strange argument, but, I followed it. This book shows that the story is far more complex than that and the behavior of those who were running this program was pretty reprehensible. It is a really important case study, I think, for graduate students or anyone interested in oral history dealing with anything that’s sensitive to know that you can’t promise anonymity in this way.
Eardley-Pryor: I had the same reaction to how this book flipped my understanding of the ethical issues involved in the oral history case. Initially, I thought how dare the British government come in and take advantage of this project when the people who participated in it were protected. The ethical flip is actually that the project itself was structured in a way that they couldn’t protect the narrators. The real challenge was how the project was organized, not how the British government demanded access to it.
Tewes: The book outlines what the people were promised, but where’s the official document?
Eardley-Pryor: They had different points of view, right? The Unionist interviewer thought for sure that everything was sealed tight until everyone was dead. The IRA interviewer, McIntyre, seemed to say it’s when the individual dies that we can release their transcripts. That’s totally different for people involved in the same project, right?
Farrell: Right. It was a little fuzzy if they were going to release the project when everyone interviewed died, but when Brendan Hughes died they released his tapes and that seemed to be a violation of what they were told. But one passage [on page 286] says, “The men had also never decided just who would be allowed to access the interviews. The conversations had always been about ‘the future students of Boston College.’ But the history department at the college had not known, until the publication of Moloney’s book, that the project was happening at all. In fact, the archive had been so secret that almost nobody at Boston College, apart from [Tom] Hachey and [Bob] O’Neill, knew that it existed.”
Meeker: This brings up an interesting point. The project was always with the library, not the History Department. I’m not sure the History Department should even be brought into it. I would hate if there was an ethical problem in our office and someone from the History Department was interviewed about it. They’d say that they are the historians on campus and didn’t know about it.
Tewes: I just wanted to point out that they did not actually release the tapes when Brendan Hughes died. They released a book written about the transcript of the tapes. When we start getting technical about subpoenas for transcripts and tapes, it’s like there was always an edited version they were presenting.
Eardley-Pryor: Just as this entire book is an edited individual subjective take on the topic. They only had access to three oral histories of the whole project. All of the storytelling in this book is based on Keefe’s own research interviewing the actual people who worked on the project. He interviews Anthony McIntyre and talks about having dinners with him and his wife.
Farrell: Yeah, there were two interviewers on the project, one was who was supposed to interview the British Loyalists.
Eardley-Pryor: The British Terrorists.
Farrell: And the other interviewed the Republicans, so it was the IRA versus the RUC.
Eardley-Pryor: McIntyre did the Irish interviews and it seemed like the author of this book had a real buddy-buddy relationship with him, sitting down to dinner with him and his wife, having cocktails together, asking pointed questions like “This is my theory, but what actually happened?” Keefe writes that McIntyre wouldn’t say yes or no, but wouldn’t deny things.
Meeker: But was there a record of exactly what the project leads said to the people who are being interviewed? I vaguely remember there being something in this book about that, but he does talk about the ambiguity. He says [on page 286], “in fact, there were quite a few fairly important points upon which their original conception of the project had been ambiguous. For instance, Wilson McArthur, Anthony McIntyre’s counterpart, who conducted all the interviews in the loyalist community, had been under the impression, as he was gathering the oral histories, that none of the interviews would be made public until all of the participants had died. He was caught off guard by the news that Moloney intended to publish Voices from the Grave just a few years after the last interviews had interviews had concluded, thereby revealing the existence of the archive when the first participants had died, rather than waiting decades until the last ones had.” I wonder if there were forms or if this was just ‘this is how we’re going to do the project’ and maybe they forgot to mention part of it.
Farrell: Well, there was a legal release. But I think one of the arguments that people make against the people who organized the project was that they weren’t trained oral historians. And that’s a huge problem.
Eardley-Pryor: It’s a big problem.
Meeker: It’s also interesting to think about sources. Gerry Adams wouldn’t talk to him.
Farrell: That’s not a surprise. He had to rely on the members of the IRA who served alongside Gerry Adams. He had the complete unredacted transcript of the Brendan Hughes interview, which Keefe said became an indispensable source. But apart from that oral history, no one would share any of the interviews with him. He never had access to the oral histories of Dolours Price.
Eardley-Pryor: So he only had access to Brendan Hughes’s oral history and that’s it?
Farrell: That’s it. Everything else was like telephone through McIntyre.
Tewes: Another researcher did an interview with Dolours Price, so he got the transcript from her.
Meeker: He did do interviews on his own. He interviewed the McConville kids.
Eardley-Pryor: And people who did their own memoirs. My sense from reading it was that he had done a ton of outside reading of other people’s own stories within the IRA.
Farrell: Here’s an interesting follow-up from the “Notes on Source” section: “Several years ago, Boston College started informing people who had participated in the project that they could have their interviews back. The university, burned by its own carelessness in handling such incendiary material, wanted to jettison its responsibility as custodian of the tapes. Many of the participants took the university up on it. One of them was Ricky O’Rawe. One day, he received a box from Boston College containing the recordings and transcripts of his conversations with McIntyre from more than a decade earlier. At first, O’Rawe could not decide what to do with them. Then he had an idea. He took the CDs and transcripts into the study in his house and lit a fire in the fireplace. Then he opened a nice bottle of Bordeaux and poured himself a glass…O’Rawe tossed his testimony into the flames. Then he drank the Bordeaux and watched it burn.” This is very descriptive.
Eardley-Pryor: That’s why I love his writing.
Tewes: That’s crazy because Ricky [O’Rawe] wrote his own book [Blanketmen]. So yes, he had his own perspective, which was maybe pared down a bit, but he clearly was comfortable sharing some level of his interview.
Eardley-Pryor: What was in those tapes that he wasn’t comfortable with?
Eardley-Pryor: That’s the curious part.
Meeker: I think it’s also like the title of the book: say nothing. Both the IRA and the Loyalist sides were sworn to secrecy under the penalty of execution, which was the whole reason that Jean McConville got in trouble to begin with, true or not. All of these people were shown to be talking about secret things and recording them.
Tewes: I’m glad you brought that up because we’ve been talking about the legal and ethical problems on the project, but as a narrator, I’m wondering if they felt comfortable with the person who is interviewing them and what their intention for participating in this project. For Dolours Price, I am a little bit convinced that there is some sort of self-destructive purging of the sins that she hoped it would come out. In many ways, she seemed to be tempting fate, even at the end, before she passed away.
Meeker: Like she would admit to a murder?
Farrell: Because she did on tape.
Eardley-Pryor: In the second interview especially. There’s a desire for truth.
Tewes: I felt both Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price were upset by people saying nothing. Gerry Adams was no longer part of the IRA and now there are different version of history.
Eardley-Pryor: And they are Catholics, too. I wonder if there’s some sort of confessional aspect to it as well.
Farrell: Or Like atonement?
Meeker: Oh, interesting.
Farrell: It’s confession.
Tewes: Quite literally.
Meeker: Yeah, there wasn’t a mention about relationship between interviewing and confession.
Farrell: No, but that would have been really interesting.
Meeker: I’ve always thought about that connection. That’s so Foucault: the pleasure of the interview as confession.
Tewes: I don’t know if this is a question that you were thinking about Shanna, but I was really struck as an interviewer trying to understand someone like McIntyre’s thought process behind the interviews. Keefe mentions that McIntyre was not an impartial person in this situation, and he was never meant to be. I wonder what would have happened if there had been an impartial interviewer, or at least someone a bit outside the system, in that room with them. Would those stories have come out? Would this have become a legal case?
Eardley-Pryor: It’s a really good question. Could the Belfast Project have happened if there were impartial participants doing the interviews?
Meeker: I think that’s an important question. Would any of these people have agreed to be interviewed in the first place?
Farrell: Has this book changed the way that you think about oral history?
Eardley-Pryor: It changed the way I think about narrating a story using oral history. This book was great. I thought Keefe told a great story that was a page-turner based on really great research.
Tewes: I have a greater appreciation for the IRB process. I was on the other side of this debate before reading this book, actually. I thought the IRB review was defunct for oral history because it didn’t understand what we do and we have our own set of ethics. But, if an IRB panel had heard any of this from Boston College, I know they would have shut it down. They could have prevented a lot of the issues that came up after. I realized it’s not only for people who aren’t familiar with oral history, but for people who are trying to work outside the system that is set up to protect our narrators, and ourselves, legally.
Meeker: This contributed to thinking that I’ve been engaged with about oral history and the feeling I’m getting from a lot of my interviews lately. I feel like there is an increasing concern with image. People are unwilling or uninterested to discuss more controversial things or things that could possibly be controversial at some point in the future. Some of my interviews, despite my best efforts, are turning into public relations exercises. That’s not the kind of work that I want to do.
Farrell: It’s made me think a little bit more about the agency of oral history and the power of being a narrator, what that experience is like for them. It’s almost like oral history was a character in the book because it had such strong agency to create a lot of these things. It’s more powerful than I think sometimes we give it credit for, mostly because this is what we do every day. It made me take a step back and think about the potential of projects that we could do here at the Oral History Center.
by Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director of the Oral History Center
The title of this particular oral history reveals not only something about its content, it provides some hint about the circumstances of the interview itself. In this transcript, you’ll see the usual Oral History Center (OHC) template of question followed by answer and so forth, but befitting the setting of the interview — San Francisco’s historic Sam’s Grill — this exchange was more a wide-ranging conversation. It turns out that George Miller, our featured narrator here, doesn’t much like the spotlight. Although he has many accomplishes to boast, he would prefer to talk ideas and give space to those things that he finds important, interesting, confounding, and amusing.
You will learn in this interview that George Miller first came to know the Oral History Center in the course of serving as a volunteer archivist, processing collections in our home, The Bancroft Library. Surrounding himself with many other very interesting and accomplished individuals, Miller asked the then OHC director if we might like to do an oral history with Thomas Graff, a man who was deeply active in environmental politics and a leader of the Environmental Defense Fund. It was agreed that Graff was a very worthy subject and Miller generously sponsored the interview. Over the following decade, Miller nominated — and underwrote — many more oral histories, thus helping OHC maintain its operations while also contributing to expansion of the oral history collection at Berkeley. As of 2019, the list includes: Jake Warner, Rick Laubscher, Will Travis, Joe Bodovitz, Anne Halsted, Michael Teitz, Jim Chappell, John Briscoe (in 2020), and, last but not least, a forty-hour interview with Warren Hinckle. As the interviewer for the Bodovitz and Travis interviews, I first met Miller around 2014. I recall an informal tipple at the Faculty Club cocktail lounge when I think I finally pieced it together: 1. He was not George Miller, the congressman; 2. Despite his rather informal façade, he is a very serious thinker; and 3. That plaque above a urinal in the men’s restroom at the club? It honored none other than George Miller, our partner in these interviews.
After engaging with Miller over the years, I suggested that he should sit for an oral history interview himself. This suggestion, and the many that followed, were rebuffed with silence. As time went on, however, I began better to grasp the necessity of conducting his oral history, despite the refusal of the potential narrator, Miller himself. So, I pressured a bit more and enlisted the support of a few allies. He finally agreed to entertain the idea, and after a few lunches at Sam’s to hash over the idea, he ultimately consented. He reasoned, to paraphrase, it might be better to do something and regret it, than not do it at all. Still, Miller made it clear that he didn’t want a conventional interview that would run point-by-point through his life. He also wanted to do these sessions at Sam’s. Neither scope nor setting would be conventional, but that was fine with me. As you read the interview, you might see that my typical interviewing structure tended to impose itself on the proceedings, but the setting and, certainly, the narrator shook things up a bit. What you have here, then, in just a bit over five hours, is an opinionated, informed, humane, rollicking, and oftentimes deeply humorous running commentary on a wide-ranging set of specific events and big themes. We get a glimpse into the history of investing and the psychology of the market; we learn of Miller’s commitment to the environment and his iconoclastic effort to restore Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley (by tearing down a massive dam); we gain insight into Bay Area urbanism and the challenges faced by those trying to improve it; and we are treated to a unique philanthropic vision for the University of California, Berkeley, and beyond. But even more than these topics, this interview invites you to pull up a stool at the bar and hear the musings and be regaled with well told stories by someone who really has seen it all.
by Shanna Farrell
Meagan Gough attended the Oral History Center’s Advanced Summer Institute in August 2017. We recently caught up with her to see how her time with us helped her develop her project around the Semá:th First Nation in British Columbia, who an indigenous to Canada.
Q: You attended the Summer Institute in 2017. What were you working on when you joined us?
MG: The Semá:th Traditional Use and Occupancy Project (“TUOS”) invited the participation of Semá:th community members from the Semá:th First Nation in British Columbia, Canada to document their connection to, and care-taking responsibilities over, natural and cultural resources within Semá:th traditional Territory and beyond. The TUOS project combines oral history interviews, GIS Mapping historical research and community engagement and events to accomplish the following goals:
- To record and map how access, use and occupancy of important cultural and natural resources is determined and understood by a diverse group of Semá:th Knowledge Holders made up of men, women, Elders, youth, political and spiritual leadership.
- To add layers to the existing historical record about Semá:th culture, history and identity through the transmission of two main types of Semá:th oral history: Sqwélqwel (genealogy or “true news”) and sxwōxwiyám (stories of long ago, origin stories).
- Engage Semá:th Knowledge holders in vision for future caretaking of land, water and air to reflect Semá:th history, culture and protocol.
- Assert Semá:th Right and Title through policy and practice, including Specific Land Claims.
- Celebrate and promote Semá:th cultural identity, knowledge
- Strengthen the capacity of the Semá:th Lands & Resources Department to respond to development referrals in Semá:th Territory.
- Draw upon community input to create and support opportunities for lands-based activities and programs in the community.
- Support seeking solutions to the mental health and suicide crisis in community using lands-based teaching and oral history.
Q: How did your time at the Summer Institute inform your project?
MG: Participation in the Advanced Institute provides a unique opportunity for general learning, reflection and engagement with oral history methods, practices and projects but also to workshop our own individual projects. This allowed us as participants to move between the macro and big picture methods, debates and teachings of oral history which inform our work and the practical individual application of this knowledge into practice in our own projects.
I found this to be a deeply enriching experience, particularly because my small group was comprised of scholars and researchers from diverse disciplines. As a scholar who draws simultaneously from disciplines of cultural anthropology, history and oral history, the input provided to me about my project during our small group presentation was extremely helpful and came into practical use since. Given the central importance of oral record in the Semá:th community, I came to the Advanced Institute with questions about ideas of how to engage community youth and elders using oral history interviews and storytelling to draw upon this record.
One suggestion was an Elder-Youth storytelling circle. A version of this became one of the central activities in Phase 3 of our project. Our Elder-Youth Storytelling event invited Elders and Youth to take turns in the roles of speaker and listener: We matched Youth and Elders and first the Elders shared lands based knowledge and oral history. The youth then had a two week period to reflect upon and interpret this oral history and present it back to the Elders and the group via a medium of their choice: writing, poetry, spoken word, song, dance, performance, and visual arts were all encouraged. The Elders then assumed the roles of listener. The circle had multiple goals: to fortify relations between Elders and Youth, to provide a unique opportunity for the transmission of traditional and historical cultural knowledge, and to encourage the exploration of the dialogical elements of such an exchange. How did the youth interpret the stories? Did the speakers feel their stories were understood as they intended them? The Youths’ art projects are currently displayed in the Semá:th Band office.
The second primary way that participation in the Institute informed our project was the inspiration I took from some of our key presenters, especially the Oakland Chinese Community Oral history project. This is where I learned about the concept of a Storymap – a digital multimedia platform to preserve and present community maps. In 2018 and Phase 3 of TUOS project, we commenced the creation of our own Storymap. Through the use of oral histories and photographs shared via TUOS interviews with Semá:th Knowledge Holders, the Semá:th Genealogy Mapping Storymap was aimed at using geneology to map the movement of ancestors of the Semá:th First Nation.
Q: What is the status of the Semá:th Traditional Use Study now?
MG: We have received successful funding from BCCI our funding agency, and commenced Phase 4 of the TUOS project. To date, we have recorded over 25 oral history interviews with Semá:th Knowledge Holders, as well mapped over 500 traditional use sites. We have created a database to archive and preserve this information so it may be used by Lands Department staff to respond to the overwhelming number of referrals from government and industry involving Semá:th Lands. We have also conducted historical and archival research and created a Semá:th historical photo collection, also housed in the database. We have hosted a number of community events which sought to seek input from Knowledge Holders as well as to keep them informed about the status of the project.
Q: You’ve described the Summer Institute having ripple effects on your work. Can you tell us more about this?
MG: My participation in the Advanced Institute was, without exaggeration, by far the most enriching professional experience I have had in terms of a course or workshop. Having practiced oral history interviewing for over 15 years, I came away generally feeling inspired, refreshed and also extremely appreciative of having my practical workshop questions answered. I was able to continue to build upon the input of my small group colleagues to integrate it into our project. I made professional contacts from around the world, some of whom have gone on to become friends. The ability to workshop our projects with a small group truly allows a deep insight into the workings of other oral history projects and by virtue of listening how technical, ethical and practical elements are addressed and resolved. The ripples of my participation are evident in tangible form via the practical application of my learning at the Institute into the creation of the Storymap as well as our Elder-Youth Storytelling Circle Event.
Q: What’s next for the project? What’s next for you?
MG: We are currently in Phase 4 of our project, we are building another “layer” of our Storymap this year which maps how traditional caretaking responsibilities extend far beyond the borders of reserve (reservation) lands across the Province, country and Internationally into the United States. We are also contributing chapters to a forthcoming publication exploring hidden histories of British Columbia. (Working title, stay tuned!) The interviews are being used in a number of capacities, asserting Right and Title to Lands, including specific land claims, on reserve lands based policy, negotiation with industry and Government.
For myself, I have just become a first time mom, so life is busy and I am full of joy and gratitude. As I write this now, I consider it a dispatch from “babyland” a unique space of the spirit and one which provides a new lens on everything in life. I hope to share the beauty and power of listening, of stories and of learning with my baby as she grows. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Berkeley Institute and all those whose hard work make it come to fruition. “All things Flow, Nothing Stands Still” – there is always something more to learn, another story to listen to, another perspective to understand. Oral history is endlessly inspiring!
Oral History Center
The Oral History Center is pleased to announce the launch of the oral history with noted China historian, Frederic Wakeman. Conducted over eleven interview sessions in the two years before his death in 2006, the oral history is part of an ongoing series of interviews with scholars in UC Berkeley’s Department of History.
Fred Wakeman spent his academic career at Berkeley, commencing with graduate studies here in far eastern history under the guidance of Professor Joseph Levenson. Immediately after completing his PhD in 1965, he was appointed assistant professor of history, and he served in the department for forty-one years, until his retirement in 2006. But despite his fealty to this place, he was very much a citizen of the world throughout his life, as he recounts in his oral history. He vividly describes his peripatetic childhood .as the son of a novelist and screenwriter living in Bermuda, Mexico, Cuba, Spain, France, and the US Midwest, Northeast, and South, and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gene Tunney, a racketeer godfather, and purported spies and con men. As a youth, he mastered several languages, read widely, made himself at ease in many cultures, and developed the fascination with the world of intrigue that suffused much of his scholarly work. He studied European history and literature as an undergraduate at Harvard and Soviet studies and political theory at the Institut d’etudes politiques in Paris. He then wrote a novel and flirted with the idea of joining the CIA, before settling on pursuing a graduate degree in China studies at Berkeley.
Over his four-decade career, Wakeman wrote groundbreaking histories of late imperial and modern China, meticulously researched, deeply analytical, and written with the graceful narrative style of a master novelist. Strangers at the Gate, his doctoral dissertation, engaged in local history, a new departure in China studies. With History and Will, he examined Mao’s intellectual roots in European and Chinese thinkers. Delving into newly discovered historical archives in China, he pursued his monumental work, twenty years in the making, on the Ming-Qing transition, the two-volume narrative history, The Great Enterprise: the Manchu Reconstruction of the Imperial Order in 17th Century China. Discovery of an incredible source of social and police history in the archives of the Shanghai Municipal Police led to his trilogy of books, Policing Shanghai, Shanghai Badlands, and Red Star over Shanghai. In 2003, he published his fourth book focusing on Shanghai and reflecting his interest in espionage, Spymaster: Dai Li and the Chinese Secret Service.
On campus Wakeman chaired the Center for Chinese Studies from 1973-1979 and was director of the Institute of East Asian Studies from 1990-2001. He was instrumental in opening scholarly exchanges between the US and China in the 1970s. His oral history describes the excitement of meeting Chinese historians in 1979 and the transformation that ensued in the study of Ming-Qing history when the first group of American scholars was led to the secret and unimaginably vast archive of government documents on the Ming-Qing era:
It was again one of those occasions where people who we thought were dead or had disappeared, or whatever, suddenly were saying, “I’m Xie Guozhen.” My God! Or, you know, “I’m Wang Qingcheng,” or “I’m . . . Zhaang Zhongli.” You know, very famous people. . . . it was absolutely thrilling. we were all completely atingle with excitement. And the second day there, the person who was assigned to be our, the Chinese call peitong, the person who accompanies you, who was a very, very vigorous, strong intellectual who had made his way through the Cultural Revolution, without—he had been labeled a Number Nine Stinking Intellectual; he’d survived that, and he was a wonderful man who’d been a secretary of Guo Moro, the great Chinese poet and writer and historian. He told me, in confidence, he said, because I was the head of the delegation, he said, “We’re going to take you to see the Ming-Qing archives. I said, “Really!” I was so excited. . . we didn’t know these things had been preserved . . .
Hidden in a compound on the grounds of the Forbidden City,:they are led into vaults, “You go into these vaults and it’s, ‘My God!’ and it began to dawn upon us. This was—we had our work cut out for us!”
As he notes in the oral history, the study of modern Chinese history was forever altered by the ensuing research in these documents. Wakeman’s The Great Enterprise was based largely on this Forbidden City archive.
In response to our project’s interest in the history of the Department of History, Wakeman reflected on the department’s all-male cohort hired at Berkeley in the late fifties and early sixties, a variegated group with tolerance for different historical approaches and insistence on rigorous standards for promotion to tenure. He contrasts the camaraderie of this group with the department’s gender and cultural battles in the early and mid-1980s, resulting in sometimes bitter personnel fights. His oral history also traces hiring in the China area, which made the Berkeley department a major US site for training historians of China.
Wakeman vividly describes campus protests of the Vietnam war era and the effect of campus political battles on the history department and the Center for Chinese Studies.
Our final interview took place in April 2006. Fred Wakeman retired in June and was awarded the Berkeley citation, the university’s highest honor. He and his wife, He La Wakeman, moved to their home in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Within just a few months, Fred died of cancer, on September 14, 2006, at age 68. We are grateful to have these recollections of his remarkable career. Fred Wakeman’s research, writing, and teaching, coupled with his public service on the campus and as chair of the Social Science Research Council and committees to expand scholarly exchanges, had a major impact on China studies at Berkeley, in the US, and internationally.
A key theme throughout Michael R. Peevey’s life, which he narrates in this extensive oral history, has been establishing a balance between economic dynamism and environmental harmony.
In the 2000s, as President of the California Public Utilities Commission and lead regulator of California’s vast energy industry, Peevey combated climate change with policies that incentivized the state’s transition to renewable energy. In the late 1990s, his own incredibly successful start-up company, New Energy Ventures, offered such efficiencies in electricity use and cost that it secured contracts from major companies and organizations, including all US military installations across California. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, while president of the Southern California Edison utility company, Peevey spearheaded efforts for electric vehicles. And in the 1970s, Peevey balanced economy and environment by co-founding and directing a new political advocacy organization called the California Council on Environment and Economic Balance (CCEEB), made up of labor organizations, powerful corporations, and environmentalists.
Michael R. Peevey was born in New York City in 1938 and moved to San Francisco in 1944. After earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Labor Economics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1959 and 1961, respectively, Peevey helped pioneer President John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier at the US Department of Labor. Peevey returned to California in 1963 to become research director of the California Labor Federation.
In 1973, shortly after creation of the California Coastal Commission, Peevey co-founded and became executive director of the California Council on Environment and Economic Balance (CCEEB), which was chaired by former California Governor Pat Brown. Peevey later helped establish similar institutions to balance environmental improvement with economic opportunity, including the California Foundation for Environment and Economy (CFEE), CALSTART, the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council, and the California Clean Energy Fund.
Peevey became deeply involved in California’s energy sectors. In 1984, Peevey joined the Southern California Edison utility company, where he quickly rose to become president of both Edison International and Southern California Edison before departing in 1993. In 1995, amid deregulation of California’s energy economy, Peevey co-founded New Energy Ventures (now NewEnergy, Inc.), which rapidly rose from zero to $600 million in annual sales. Peevey and his co-founders sold New Energy to AES in 1999.
In 2001, amid skyrocketing electricity costs and rolling brown-outs, Governor Grey Davis requested Peevey come to Sacramento to help mitigate the California energy crisis. In 2002, after Peevey helped control the crisis, Governor Davis appointed him as president of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Both ensuing California Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown reappointed Peevey as CPUC president before Peevey’s retirement in late 2014. In 2017, Peevey co-authored the book California Goes Green: A Roadmap to Climate Leadership, which further details ways that California has pioneered paths toward environmental sustainability while maintaining its astounding economic dynamism.
In this oral history, Peevey discusses all the above events, as well as the following topics: his family background and upbringing; education at UC Berkeley; work in labor organizations; running for elected office; political advocacy on environmental issues; reflections on political and executive leadership; his career at Southern California Edison; market deregulation and entrepreneurship; the California energy crisis in the early 2000s; leadership of the California Public Utilities Commission; and policies he championed to incentivize California’s green-energy economy.
From the Director:
Preserving Veteran Experiences for Future Generations
It was the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month that the armistice ending World War I took effect. In the ensuing years this was celebrated, first, as Armistice Day, and, now, as Veteran’s Day. On this day we commemorate and remember those men and women who have served in the armed forces. Although the Oral History Center has no “veteran’s oral history project” per se, we proudly have documented the lives and service of hundreds of military men and women in multiple projects throughout our collection, and in observance of this year’s holiday, we’d like to highlight some of those for you here.
When the Oral History Center was established sixty-five years ago, World War I already was nearly forty years in the past. I was not able to locate any oral histories in our collection with those who served in the US military at that time, but the life and times of The Great War does appear in our interviews, and from some pretty interesting angles too. Our 1987 interview with Charles Blaisdell, Jr. offers a view into immediate prewar Germany, around the time of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, as well as his observations of World War I from outposts in India and China. A memoir from 1976 provides another unique perspective on World War I, this time from a young man living in pre-Soviet Russia, Ivan Stenbock-Fermor.
The collection becomes much more substantial in its coverage of World War II, both of those who served in the military and who assisted with the homefront effort. Of the latter group, any serious researcher must contend with the Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front oral history project. This project, completed only in the last few years, is OHC’s largest project to date, resulting in hundreds of individual interviews. Along with scores of interviews with those who worked in wartime industries, this project also features a handful of interviews with women who served in the military, such as army recruiter Mary Cohen, who later went on to place veterans in jobs; or served in some auxiliary role, such as Anita Christiansen and Mary Highfill, both of whom volunteered with the USO; or Grahame Crichton Coffey, who joined the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) in 1943 and continued her service for the duration of the war.
In dozens of additional interviews, men detail their service in the war and bravery in many of the great battles. Walter Newman, for example, provides a harrowing, awe-inspiring account of the Invasion of Normandy in June 1944; around the town of Saint Lo, Newman was shot through the lung and gravely injured, spending many months hospitalized (see the video below). He recuperated fully and went on to work for the welfare of veterans throughout his life and was even honored with the French Legion of Honor medal in 2009. Our recent oral history with UC Berkeley Mechanical Engineering Professor George Leitmann also offers a riveting first-person account of the Battle of Colmar and the liberation of Europe. The fact that both Newman and Leitmann were young Jews fighting the Nazis adds an extra dimension to these dramatic tales.
The story of American veterans did not end with World War II, and the OHC collection includes scores of oral histories with those who have served in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War, among other conflicts. Our project documenting the history of the Oakland Army Base includes interviews covering all of these conflicts, but has a special focus on the Korean War and Vietnam War eras, the time at which the base was the largest military port operation in the world. Gordon Coleman, an Oakland native and graduate of UC Berkeley, served in Korea in the immediate wake of the ceasefire. George Bolton, who was interviewed for this project, was raised in Oakland and was drafted into the army in 1963 where he served for two years, including some time in these early years of the Vietnam War. Grant Davis served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, and then went on to have a civilian career at the Oakland Army Base. All three men speak about their military careers from the perspective of African Americans who experienced integration, and racism, while in the service.
These interviews are just one way — perhaps only one small way — in which the Oral History Center, and by extension UC Berkeley, chooses to honor our veterans and remember their service to our country. Further, we are aware that those whom we had the chance to interview were those who survived the battles, the wars, and the hardships; they returned home, but many others did not. Because they are the ones who lived to tell those stories, we take seriously our role in preserving them for you and future generations to hear.
Charles B. Faulhaber Director
Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library
In 2017, the Getty Center initiated the exhibit Pacific Standard Time: LA / LA, a multi-gallery art exhibition throughout the Los Angeles area that showcased the interconnections between Latin America and the Los Angeles. In its continuing partnership with the OHC, the Getty Trust sponsored oral histories with a few of the artists featured in the year-long exhibition. David Lamelas was one of the selected artists.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1946, Lamelas would earn international recognition over his career as one of the leading pioneers of conceptual art. He graduated from the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1963 and soon became a key member of the Instituto Torcuatro di Tella, a group that stood at the center of Argentina’s avant-garde scene. With political turmoil on the rise, he left Argentina in 1968 to study at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, stopping along the way to represent his home country at the famed Venice Biennial. There his installation, The Office of Information about the Vietnam War at Three Levels, garnered wide praise and attention, introducing Europe to the themes of time, communication, and media that Lamelas would explore in much of his work in the decades to come.
Over the next fifty years, Lamelas continued to push the boundaries of conceptual art. From photography and installations to an impressive array of films, he continually found new ways to explore the topics of media and popular culture, as well as his favorite themes of time and space. He also has continued to be a “citizen of the world,” often splitting his time between Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, and Europe. Indeed, such travel offered ample inspiration for his work. It also made him a fitting choice for the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA / LA exhibition.
This year’s annual meeting of the Oral History Association (OHA) was hosted in Salt Lake City, Utah, where we caught just a glimpse of the region’s famed winter season, but were kept warm by invigorating discussion of oral history best practices and challenges.
At the OHA conference I was especially impressed by the number of panels on doing oral history with indigenous people. In the roundtable session “Native American Stories of Peoplehood,” panelists grappled with how they incorporated oral tradition from their indigenous communities into oral history. It left me with a good reminder: narrators’ histories do not necessarily begin at birth, and their ancestors may play a large role in how they frame their own lives. One audience question from this session also asked when and how to include proprietary information about tribes in oral histories (i.e.: sacred stories, songs, ceremonies). One panelist remarked that this complicated area is something to review with both narrators and tribal elders. And yet, even when not interviewing in indigenous communities, it is important to discuss parameters for interviews long before pressing record!
Another highlight was the keynote speaker Isabel Wilkerson. The session was standing room only as Wilkerson spoke about her 2010 book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Wilkerson walked the audience through her process of finding and interviewing individuals whose life experiences humanized the stories of the twentieth-century Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North, Midwest, and West. I groaned in sympathy as she recalled difficulties in finding narrators. But most importantly, I was drawn to Wilkerson’s understanding that oral histories are precious and time-sensitive products that often need to be prioritized over extensive archival research. I, too, have lost narrators before being able to interview them, and I have often wondered what stories they could have told to change the historical record as we know it. In short, Wilkerson validated the work of oral history, and reminded us that the most important work oral historians do is to help others tell their stories, especially when they change how we view the past.
After attending sessions on making oral history a sustainable career, I walked away from this year’s meeting with an even greater sense of the importance of building a community of oral historians beyond the academy and formalized training programs. Often it is the practitioners on the ground who best connect to under acknowledged individuals with important stories to share. So, as an interviewer with a seat of privilege, my questions to other practitioners are: how do we support oral historians working in the field? How do we further democratize oral history? I look forward to continuing these discussions next year in Baltimore!